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Trends in tents

Feature, Tents | January 1, 2012 | By:

Make the most of today’s tent trends.

From the structural integrity of engineered structures to the ethereal glow of sailcloth tents, understanding and acting on the latest tent innovations and growth segments can open up new opportunities for tent companies. And while there’s no “right” direction for focusing tent inventory, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a “right” angle.

Engineered growth

For Steve Traube, co-owner of Traube Tents and Structures, Columbia, Ill., the right angle meant launching a structures division in January 2010, in addition to his special event tent rental company. Considering the economic climate at the time, expanding the company was a bold move, but it was a move inspired by industry knowledge and core business strategies.

“What really prompted me to add the structures division was reading the book Blue Ocean Strategy [by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne],” Traube says. “It made me think about ways we could grow the business and where our value was. Our considerations for expansion were that we could open a store in a new location, go after lower end jobs in town or look for other markets in which we could build on the inventory we already had.”

Traube chose to expand to other markets with the existing inventory, with special attention to advance marketing. “We had always worked periodically in engineered tents for construction, industrial and agricultural market segments—but as an afterthought,” he says. “So we thought: What if we could get in on the bidding phase?”

To get in on the bidding phase Traube Tents marketed to existing and potential clients in a way that the company hadn’t before. It highlighted the benefits of engineered tents—revenue for its clients and the safety of people under the tents.

Planning equals performance

“We’ve been very successful at showing construction companies in particular how they can save a tremendous amount of money by spending money with us on engineered structures,” Traube says. “We’ve been able to show them how our engineered tents help them work more efficiently.”

Case in point—Traube Tents secured a large project in February 2010 for a local construction company in which it covered a site for a concrete pour with a 40-by-50-meter engineered structure. When the company came into that project the client was about three weeks behind schedule—until an ice and snow storm hit. Other sites the client was working on were shut down and employees were reassigned to the concrete pour, protected by the engineered tent. “The client picked up a full eight weeks because they were able to work under a protected environment,” Traube says. “Something employees loved as well, since they could work more efficiently in a 40-to-50 degrees environment as opposed to working in the bitter cold.”

The role of codes

While engineered tents are a good choice for industrial and construction applications—and a growing application—they’re also an important consideration for tented special events. “The more people you have in one place, the more the building authorities begin paying attention to what is happening,” says Dan Nolan III, president of Tents Unlimited Inc., Marietta, Ga. “In Atlanta the requirements seem to be evolving rapidly for larger events, which has caused a trickle-down effect for smaller events.”

Alex Kouzmanoff, vice president of Aztec Tents, Torrance, Calif., agrees. “More and more local governing authorities are requiring that temporary tents meet the building code for structural stability,” he says. “This gradual shift has impacted our outlook and is in the forefront as we analyze and research products.” Still, he notes, “there is a market for products that do not meet those code requirements.”

For tent renters, code requirements vary and are driven by the building authorities, which mean staying abreast of local statutes. “Buying some add-on parts to make current lines meet new standards enables us to meet requirements,” Nolan says.

Setting sail

The principles behind innovation and good business don’t seem to change—when a company takes what they know best and creates a new product from it to meet a demand, they’re onto something exciting.

It’s been approximately 30 years since Sperry Tents, Rochester, Mass., used their expertise in sail making to create another revenue stream—sailcloth tents for special events. Marked by soft lines that evoke the aesthetics of sailing the open sea, the tents’ popularity has spread from the Northeast throughout the country in the past two to three years. “Initially the tents were only used near the coast, where people were more likely to make the sailing connection,” says Tim Sperry, president of Sperry Tents. “But now we have success with the tents in locations with little or no connection to the sea.”

Arguably, the recent explosion of the tent’s popularity can be attributed to a few factors: its simple design that creates an elegant atmosphere without the need for added decor, widening availability throughout the country and the stability of tented wedding events in a struggling economy. “The sailcloth tent product is, to some extent, shielded from the corporate event spending decline that we’ve seen in the last three years,” Kouzmanoff says. “This product has primarily been used for the wedding and small to mid-sized event marketplace, and these segments have not been hit as hard as larger corporate events.”

Availability of the sailcloth design spread as most manufacturers began using lightweight vinyl to manufacture the tents. “The original sailcloth tents are stitched, which makes them prone to seepage,” says Steve Frost, president of Stamford Tent and Event Services, Stamford, Conn. “The newer styles of sailcloth tents are utilizing modern materials, such as lightweight vinyl, that can be heat sealed to eliminate the seepage.”

Sperry chooses to continue to manufacture the tents using Dacron (woven polyester) sailcloth because of the soft look of woven fabric. The company coats it with FR, UV protection, water proofing and mold/mildew inhibitor, and Sperry points out that after several years of experimenting, the company has developed an effective method to seal the seams. Both types of tents are somewhat delicate. “Regardless of whether the canopies are sailcloth or lightweight vinyl, greater care needs to be taken when handling the canopies to avoid abrasion and puncture damage during installation and breakdown,” Sperry says. “The same is true for dirt. Because the canopies are translucent everything shows more than it would with blackout vinyl.”

Whether it’s increasing the use of engineered structures or offering clients a gentle new tent trend for their wedding or special event, one thing is sure: As tent manufacturers and tent rental companies keep abreast of the needs of their clients by making the most of emerging trends and creating new ones, they’re positioning their businesses for ever-changing market demands.

Sigrid Tornquist is a freelance author and editor based in St. Paul, Minn. She is also the associate editor of InTents magazine, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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